Donn McClean's Horses To Follow: February 13th -17th
Before we dive in, some basic rules for a horses to follow list is to keep them in a tracker and on your radar for the next three runs, bearing in mind ideal conditions across variables like venue, ground, opposition and price are satisfactory to you as a punter. This column should help you build up a list that proves profitable under those circumstances, provides timely reminders to reduce repeated form study and assist with your enjoyment of a season be it National Hunt or Flat racing in the UK and Ireland and sometimes beyond.
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Shattered Love - Naas, 13th Feb
10yo Mare, Gordon Elliott
It is understandable that Elimay got most of the attention after she won the Opera Hat Chase at Naas on Saturday. Willie Mullins' mare was impressive in winning the two-mile listed race, over a distance that is probably short of her best, and she is a progressive mare who deserves her place at the top of the market for the new Mares' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. However, the performance that Shattered Love put up in finishing second may have gone a little under the radar as a consequence. The distance of the race was too sharp for Gordon Elliott's mare too. She disputed the lead with Yukon Lil from early and, while she got out-paced at the top of the home straight and dropped to third, she stayed on well from the final fence to get back up for second place behind Elimay, four and a half lengths in front of Yukon Lil.
Shattered Love is 10 now, but she retains lot of ability. This was her first run back since she finished down the field in a warm three-mile handicap hurdle at Navan in December, a performance which you can easily allow her, given that it was her first run over hurdles in over three and a half years. On her previous run, she was impressive in winning a listed mares' chase at Clonmel over two and a half miles, a race that she won last year too. She has run in an Irish National and in a Gold Cup, and she won the Grade 1 Neville Hotels Chase over three miles as a novice, but two and a half miles is probably her optimum trip now and, as such, the new Mares' Chase at Cheltenham is a good target for her too. Interestingly, she won the JLT Chase over the Mares' Chase course and distance in 2018.
Eyewitness - Naas, 13th Feb
4yo Gelding, Gordon Elliott
Eyewitness ran out a good winner of the bumper at Naas on Saturday. Prominent from early, Gordon Elliott's horse moved up nicely on the inside to dispute the lead as they raced down the back straight. He travelled well into the home straight and moved on at the three-furlong marker. Rider Jamie Codd didn't ask him to pick up until they raced to the two-furlong marker and, when he did, the response was good. He quickly put three lengths between himself and his pursuers, and he stayed on well through the final furlong all the way to the line to win by four lengths in the end from Hashtag Watt, with Hunters Yarn another two lengths back in third.
There appeared to be plenty of market confidence behind both the second and the third horses in the pre-race market whereas, by contrast, Eyewitness was notably weak, drifting from morning prices of around 9/4 to an SP of 13/2. But he travelled like the most likely winner from a fair way out, and he found plenty when Jamie Codd went for him. He was no match for Willie Mullins' impressive mare Belle Metal in another Naas bumper on his racecourse debut in January, when he was just beaten by Captain Conby for the runner-up spot, but this was a nice step forward from that, and he exacted his revenge on Captain Conby quite emphatically in the process. He is really well bred, he is a three-parts brother to Expert Eye, who won the Jersey Stakes and the Breeders' Cup Mile, out of a half-sister to dual Guineas winner Special Duty, and it is interesting that his trainer said that he could mix it now between flat and jumps. He should be better on better ground too, and he should continue to progress as he gains experience.
Sovereign Gold - Naas, 13th Feb
7yo Mare, Henry De Bromhead
Sovereign Gold kept on well to finish second to Minella Till Dawn in the two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase at Naas on Saturday. Held up early on towards the rear and towards the outside by Rachael Blackmore, her jumping was generally good for one so inexperienced. She made nice progress over the three fences at the bottom of the track, despite getting in tight to the second of those fences, travelled well into the home straight and moved up into second place behind Minella Till Dawn. He travelled better than her on the run to the second last fence and, while it never really looked like she was going to get past him, she kept on well on the near side to finish a clear second.
This was a good step forward by Henry de Bromhead's mare. Minella Till Dawn is a talented chaser on his day, and she did well to finish a clear second behind him. Sovereign Gold had been well beaten behind Aramax and Port Stanley at Fairyhouse on her previous run, but that was over two miles, and it was a race in which it was difficult for the hold-up horses to get into it. A dual point-to-point winner, she stays this two-and-a-half-mile trip well. The handicapper raised her by 2lb to a mark of 118, and that is a mark off which she will remain of interest. She is only seven and this was just her third chase and just her fifth run under Rules, so she has plenty of potential for further progression.
You Raised Me Up - Naas, 13th Feb
8yo Gelding, Martin Brassil
You Raised Me Up put up a good performance to win the Connolly's Red Mills novices' hurdle at Naas on Saturday.
Weak in the market beforehand, Martin Brassil's horse travelled well through his race for Darragh O'Keeffe behind a good pace that Feelgood Island set. He moved up nicely as they raced across the bottom of the track and progressed into third place behind Feelgood Island and Petibonome as they straightened up for home. He wasn't that fluent at the second last flight, so he did well to pick up as well as he did from there to challenge at the last. Much better at that obstacle, he joined Feelgood Island and Petibonome 200 yards out, and he kept on well from there to go on and win by a half a length from Petibonome, with Feelgood Island four lengths back in third.
The three horses who dominated the market dominated the finish of the race, and You Raised Me Up did well to come out on top. He didn't win last season, his first over hurdles, but he ran a big race to finish third in the Ladbrokes Hurdle at Leopardstown last February. He didn't race again after that until he made his debut this season in a two-mile maiden hurdle at the Listowel Festival in September, which he duly won. This was his first run since, his first run in almost five months - he missed an intended engagement in a handicap hurdle at Leopardstown's Christmas Festival because of the soft ground - so there is every chance that he will come forward for it.
Goodish ground is apparently important to him, so he should progress as the ground gets better as we move into the spring. He is eight years old, but he has raced just six times over hurdles, and he has won twice, his last two races, so there could be a fair bit more to come from him. His trainer Martin Brassil won this race two years ago with City Island, who went and won the Ballymore Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival next time. Your Raised Me Up is not entered in any of the novice hurdles at Cheltenham, but his trainer did mention the County Hurdle and the Coral Cup as options, and he will be of interest if he lines up in either.
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Screaming Colours - Punchestown, 14th Feb
10yo Gelding, William Durkan
Screaming Colours ran another big race to finish second to The Big Dog in the Grand National Trial at Punchestown on Sunday. Racing towards the rear of the field from early, his jumping wasn't overly fast, but it was safe in the main, with the exception of the fence before the home turn first time, where he got in tight and hit it. Moved towards the outside by Conor Orr with a circuit to go, he made steady progress down the back straight final time, moved into fifth place as they left the back straight, and moved into second place behind The Big Dog as they straightened up for home. He jumped the last upsides the winner, and he actually went a neck or a half a length up on the run-in before The Big Dog battled back and got up and beat him by a half a length.
It was another big run by Bill Durkan's horse in a staying handicap chase. Winner of his beginners' chase at Fairyhouse in April 2018, he was off the track for almost two years before he won a point-to-point at Oldtown in February last year. He won a three-mile handicap chase at Punchestown off a mark of 118 on his debut this season, and he has now finished second in all three runs since. He shaped as if three miles and one furlong was on the sharp side for him in his two previous runs, and he stayed three and a half miles well here. The Big Dog probably had more in hand than the bare winning margin, he may have been idling on the run-in, but Peter Fahey's horse is a talented and progressive staying chaser, and Screaming Colours finished nicely clear of the rest of his rivals.
The Dubai Destination gelding is 10 now, and he is creeping up the handicap, but he is a lightly-raced 10-year-old, and a 3lb hike for this run was not harsh. He shapes as if he could do even better in a more extreme test. His rating of 131 probably isn't high enough to get him into the Irish Grand National, and the Eider Chase probably comes up a little too quickly, but he would be of interest in the Midlands National at Uttoxeter or the Scottish Grand National at Ayr should connections choose to aim at either of those races.
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